Cathy Gale had only been back from Africa a week when she saw them.
Steed she recognised immediately: not a man even a year on another continent could make her forget, much as she had tried. But the woman was unfamiliar. Dark-haired and elegant, she was doing most of the talking, pointing things out in the displays abd explaining them with an exuberant air as her companion listened with a curious smile.
She was quite sure he'd never listened to her like that. From her spot on the balcony above she could see the way they stood together, heedless of personal space, her face turning towards his every now and then with an affectionate smile.
A smirk formed across her lips. Well, well. Perhaps he had changed. Just a little bit, of course - even in her mind she balked at giving him too many compliments. His ego was quite large - and irritating - enough as it was.
Allowing herself one more moment of unseen observation, she leaned across the balcony and let out a low wolf-whistle.
They both looked up, Steed's face breaking in to a jovial grin when he saw her. "Mrs Gale! Precisely the last person I'd expect to hear violating the sanctity of a museum."
"It's good to see you too, Steed," she said lightly. "Are you going to introduce me?"
"Oh, I'm so sorry. Mrs Gale, this is Mrs Peel. She works with me."
Cathy raised an eyebrow. "Pleased to meet you, Mrs Peel."
"And how do you and Steed know each other, if I might ask?" said the brunette, humour sparkling in her eyes. There was none of the jealousy or even suspicion she had been prepared for - Steed chose his partners wisely, that much was obvious.
"We're...old acquaintances," she said drily. Let Steed elaborate if he felt the need to: it would at least be interesting to see how he worded the explanation. But he simply looked at her with a slightly more serious expression. "Won't you come down?"
There was a time she would have swung her legs over the railings and simply jumped to the ground, but she had the feeling that neither her employers nor Mrs Peel would appreciate the demonstration. And after all, there was a perfectly good staircase behind her.
She emerged from between two display cases and stopped a fair distance from Steed. "What are you doing here?" she asked softly, fixing him with a glare.
"Simply visiting, Mrs Gale!"
His voice held the note of wounded pride that had so often signified some new, convoluted scheme in the past, and her glare hardened. "Steed, if you dare-"
"Honestly," he said. "I had no idea you were here."
Mrs Peel was looking worriedly from one to the other but remained silent.
"Without wanting to appear rude, you've said that before." Her voice softened. "But, as usual, I'll give you the benefit of the doubt."
"I appreciate that."
She nodded, half irritated at herself for letting him get under her skin again - and aware that Mrs Peel almost certainly deserved an explanation after that exchange. "Steed had a habit of...getting me involved in things. Often unwillingly."
"Oh, we were a good team," he said, unrepentant.
Mrs Peel was studying her with interest. "So you worked with Steed?"
"Madmen, masterminds and all sorts of criminals. I survived, but I had to go back to Africa to get away from it."
"I'm afraid distance isn't always a sufficient precaution. He found me on the Amazon."
So she had been right: this woman was far more than a pretty face and a clever wit. "The Amazon? Well, Steed, I am impressed. I shan't even ask what you were doing in Brazil."
"Best not," he agreed. "I should hate to have to kill you afterwards."
"I'd like to see you try."
The smile she got in return was absolutely genuine and she grinned despite herself. "Well, I should get back to work," she said eventually. "I have the whole basement to catalogue and put on display."
"Yes, I would hate to drag you away from that."
"There's no way on earth you could."
He smiled ruefully, and there was an unspoken apology in his expression. "It was a pleasure to meet you again, Mrs Gale," he said with sincerity.
"Likewise." She turned to Mrs Peel. "Do try and keep him out of trouble."
"I'm not sure that's possible," she said warmly. "Or, dare I say it, very interesting."
"No, I don't suppose it is." She refrained from saying anything more, well aware that her intervention was neither necessary nor welcome. "In that case, enjoy yourselves." Not wanting to draw out the farewell, it was easy to slip back between the cases and start down the rest of the stairs leading to the basement.
"Are you going to simply let her go?" she heard Mrs Peel say softly as she left.
"Mrs Gale? My dear Mrs Peel, I'm not letting her go. I'm letting her make a decision."
Yes, he had certainly changed, and perhaps he had paid more attention to her character than she had assumed. There had been no sly comments, no attempts at manipulation and certainly no ingenuous dinner invitations. And there was a certain respect in the tacit agreement that he wouldn't ask and she wouldn't offer.
She was quite happy to leave it at that.